Overview of Survey Results on the Psychological Adjustment of Adult Adoptees
Conducted by David Cubito, Psy.D.July, 1999 Psychological Adjustment in Adult Adoptees: Assessment of Distress, Depression, and Anger was published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry Volume 70 No. 3, July 2000.
The public holds many unsupported beliefs about adult adoptees. Doctors, lawyers, social workers, and government officials make decisions about adoptees based on hearsay and their own assumptions. The purpose of this study is to expand the limited body of research that has investigated the psychological adjustment of adult adoptees.
A total of 525 female adoptees and 191 male adoptees (Figure 1) were recruited at adoptee conferences, adoptee search & support groups, and via the Internet. Participants included in the data analysis were placed in their adoptive home prior to age 2, were adopted by a family unrelated to their birth family, and were currently living in the United States. Adoptees in this study were between the age of 21 and 61 (average age of 35), 91 % of the adoptees described their biological nationality as "European/Caucasian," and participants were recruited from all over the United States (20% from the Northeast, 34% from the South, 17% from the Midwest, and 29% from the West - Figure 2).
Adoptees completed a demographics questionnaire, the Brief Symptom Inventory (a measure of overall distress), the Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale (a measure of depression), and the Anger Content Scale of the MMPI-2 (a measure of anger). Each of these test instruments has two types of "Normative Data" so those researchers can evaluate how our sample population (the adoptees) scored in relation to other groups. These two types of normative data include:
General Non-native Data -- The average score from a sample of everyday people in our society.
Outpatient Normative Data -- The average score from a sample of clients at outpatient mental health clinics. An outpatient mental health clinic is where a person would meet with a Psychiatrist, Psychologist or Social Worker to help them cope with their mild to moderate emotional discomfort. Their level of distress is not severe enough for them to require psychiatric hospitalization.
Before discussing the findings, we want to stress that the results should be interpreted with caution. Like most research, this study has some important shortcomings:
the adoptee research participants were not randomly selected,
the adoptees were compared "normative data" which may not be representative of this sample,
categorizing how the adult adoptees had searched (Nonsearchers, Searchers, or Reunited) was problematic, and
the test instruments only cover a few facets of psychological logical adjustment.
Given the previously mentioned limitations, the overall finding was that the adult adoptees scored about half way between the General Normative Data and the Outpatient Normative Data on each of the test instruments. Specifically, on both the measure of distress and the depression scale, male and female adoptees scored about half way between the General Normative Data and the Outpatient Normative Data. On the measure of anger, the female adoptees scored slightly higher than the General Normative Data and the male adoptees' score was virtually the same as the General Normative Data. Taken together, the results indicate that adult adoptees tend to report higher levels of maladjustment than nonadoptees but they are by no means a pathological group.
Comparisons were also made between Nonsearching, Searching, and Reunited adoptees. For each test instrument, Nonsearchers reported the least maladjustment followed by the Reunited and Searching subgroups. This rank order Finding occurred for both male and female adoptees. Because of the previously mentioned shortcomings in this research, it is impossible to determine whether searching is a stressful process that contributes to the differences between search groups or if psychological distress motivates adoptees to search.
We hope that this summary letter answered most of your questions about the purpose and results of this research project. A 30-page manuscript concerning this research was sent to the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry for publication. If accepted, the earliest we anticipate it will be published will be around May 2000.
David Cubito, Psy.D.Licensed Psychologist
Karen Obremski Brandon, Ph.D.Assistant Professor of PsychologyUniversity Of South Florida
Figure 1. Breakdown of Adoptees by Gender
Figure 2. Breakdown of Adoptees by Region